Practice makes perfect, right? I would have to agree – generally the more times I do something, the easier the task becomes. Take for example, my first half marathon compared to subsequent races. It gets easier every time. In the Emerald City Half – my best race to date with a finish time of 2 hours and 54 minutes – I clicked off the miles smoothly. I was strong, confident and in good running shape. I wasn’t nervous – as I was before my first half a year earlier – and I had fun the whole time! I wasn’t worried about finishing – I knew I would. I usually get a little bit of pre-race jitters, but nothing like how I felt before the first half. It’s much easier to relax now and enjoy the scenery!
How exactly do you practice racing if you are training to run your first half marathon?
Sign up to run a 5K or two!
Most runners I know find it beneficial to not have their first race be their goal race (i.e. their first half marathon or full marathon). Racing is fun, exciting and can be daunting if you have never done it before. Signing up for a 5K before your “big” race allows you to experience the racing atmosphere on a much smaller scale and provides you with an additional opportunity to work out any kinks you may encounter on race day. From packet pick-up to finish line party, you will feel much better knowing what to expect as well as be prepared for any mishaps.
I find that racing, even on a smaller scale, keeps me motivated to run and set new goals. This weekend, I participated in the Race for Ellie 5K, a local race to raise funds in partnership with The Ohio State University for research toward a cure for Mitochondrial Disease.
It was a tough race for me; I finished in 42:12, my slowest 5K time. Not only was it tough because I don’t think I am yet fully recovered from Pittsburgh, but because I made some mistakes that really affected my ability to run. “You know better,” crossed my mind many times during that 3.1 miles. Looking back, though, I am glad I ran Ellie to remind me of these mistakes so I don’t repeat them at a later date. What can I say?
So, what did I learn from running the Race for Ellie that can also help you before your big race?
I am reminded that practice really does make perfect. By following the mileage and guidelines of a good training plan, you are already practicing for the race. Stick to the schedule and you will be able to run the miles. Once you are comfortable running four or 5 miles, I would suggest signing up for a local 5K to gain racing experience. Training is good because it allows you to figure out your weak spots and practice different techniques. For example, do you like GU or Chomps when you are running long distances? Do you prefer to stretch before or after running or both? If you find the second half of any run is increasingly difficult compared to the first half, you can begin to focus your energy on the second half while maintaining or eventually increasing your pace. By staying true to your training plan, you have a greater chance of avoiding injury and burnout. Running Ellie yesterday reminded me that I need to slow down a little bit, take it easy on myself and let the miles add up gradually. I should not feel like I have to force myself back into higher miles – I can run them when I am ready. Just like at the beginning of any training plan, the more I practice, the more the miles will start to come easy again.
I need to make sure I get adequate rest! Sleep and relaxation are important. I stayed up a little too late on Saturday night, instead of trying to get to sleep earlier. I was tired on Sunday morning for the race and that affected me mentally as well as physically. It is not very fun feeling like you are exhausted even before you get to the starting line. The night before a race, go to bed a little earlier and don’t over-think the next day’s events or you might still be up all night. See above. You’ve trained for this; you’re prepared to make the miles!
Hydration is paramount. Before you even begin racing, make sure you are well hydrated, as with all training runs too. Usually, I start “channeling my inner camel” at least the day before the race, if not two or three days before. This makes a huge difference! Basically, I thought before the race this weekend, “It’s just a 5K, I’ll be fine.” WRONG. I should have stuck to my regular hydration plan – drink water until your pee comes out pale yellow or clear! Drink. Drink. Drink. And then drink some more. Store it up like a camel preparing to trek across the Sahara. A mile into Ellie I was thirsty and once you are thirsty, it is really really hard to rehydrate and feel normal again. By the time I reached the water station at mile 1.5 or so, it was too late to quench my thirst. Drinking an excess of water would have just created cramps and an unsettled stomach. I drank a normal amount of water and continued on, but I had to stop for a few walking breaks on the way in to the Finish Line. I was tired, sluggish and had a headache for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Not fun at all.
My next biggest mistake? Not pacing myself when the race began. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and speed of the other runners and take off out of the gate at too fast of a pace. This will only cause you to lose momentum in the end (or in the middle, like I did, when I suddenly looked down and noticed I had been running at an 11:47 pace – yikes!). When the race begins, pace yourself. If you start off your first half mile pacing yourself, your finish will be much stronger. I knew I was starting too fast, but I did it anyway. I thought I might make it at that pace the whole way until 0.73 miles into the race when I was spent. Combined with inadequate hydration, the rest of the race was miserable.
If you pace yourself in the beginning, you can give it all you’ve got at the Finish. Save your strength for the finish! When you approach the halfway mark you should be picking up the pace to finish strong. Give it all you’ve got anywhere from your last quarter mile to the last few hundred yards and sprint it in if you can. I did this, for the first time in a long time, during the Race for Ellie thanks to Heather, who coached me through to the finish, and it was extremely satisfying. I felt like in spite of a tough race, I was a superstar crossing that finish line. I didn’t have much left, but I left it all on the track. In this race, we started and finished on the track, which was cool because I felt like I was fast for about 39.4 seconds!
All in all, Race for Ellie was a great race – well organized and supports a cause that we can all believe in. The post-race festivities we also pretty cool – we had pizza, wings (for some reason they tasted so good!), Italian Ice (should be served after every summer race from now on), water, bananas, rolls, and coffee. The shirt is light pink in color and is a womens technical shirt. I wore it after the race and it is just roomy enough to be comfortable without feeling like it is too big on me. This race had a water stop halfway, a kid’s race (complete with finisher ribbons), a mile long family fun walk, and awards for the top 3 male and female finishers. The volunteers were really helpful and clearly wanted to do all they can to support Ellie and her family. A great race for first-time racers, a fun, casual event for more experienced runners and a truly family-oriented event.
|Race for Ellie 5K Shirt|
My Top Five Reasons to Run A 5K:
(in no particular order)
- For the racing experience! If at all possible, don’t let your goal race be your first race! Run a 5K to get some experience and to have some racing fun too!
- To support a charity or a specific cause. You can choose to support almost anything you want to from breast cancer research, to homeless animals, to civic associations, to diabetes, to pancreatic cancer. Support the cause you believe in and sign up to make a difference today!
- To achieve a PR. You can focus increasing your speed by running smaller races, like the 5K. This helps to build confidence in your ability to break your own records. Plus, it is really exciting to feel the accomplishment of running faster than you did the last time.
- Because crossing the Finish Line is motivating! You will be more inspired to run your goal race once you have crossed a finish line or two. Imagine crossing the finish line of a local 5K or 10K x a hundred million! You will never forget the experience of the ‘Runner’s High.’
- To run for fun, with friends, and without the pressure of a big race. Once you have been running for a little while, especially during half marathon or marathon training, your body will become accustomed to the 5K distance and you can decide to run a 5K or meet up with a group of running buddies with short notice. It does not take nearly as much time to train and get “in shape” for a 5K as it does a half marathon!
Search nearby race companies and running stores, such as Fleet Feet to get a list of upcoming 5K’s in your area. If you’re local, check out Premier Races for a list of 5K’s coming your way!
Think about a 5K you would like to run. Look for one around July or August – there are many races on the 4th of July and generally people also have the day off. I love to race on holidays! Check with some of your running buddies to rally some company out on the race course.
“I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” – Stephan Grellet
Until the next mile marker,